New hybrid buses arriving in Peninsula communities

New hybrid buses are joining the fleet of the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) and gradually hitting the streets of Peninsula communities.

Last month, the first nine diesel-electric hybrid buses — each costing $650,000 — were unveiled on VTA bus line 66, which connects San Jose and Milpitas. Since then, another 20 buses have been delivered.

The hybrids are now being used on bus lines 23 and 68, which connect Cupertino and Gilroy with San Jose. By the end of January, they will become part of line 35, which serves Palo Alto, Mountain View and Stanford University.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, commonly known as stimulus money, helped pay for the buses. Eventually, there will be 90 total, with additional state funding from 2009’s Proposition 1B and the VTA’s general fund.

VTA operates a fleet of 450 buses; the new hybrids will be used as replacements for older buses that are being retired.

Environmental considerations were a primary concern for VTA. Starting in 2011, the California Air Resources Board will require local public transportation providers to make Zero Emission Buses (ZEB) account for 15 percent of new vehicle purchases.

The VTA chose to order the hybrid buses over ZEBs, because “currently there are few ZEBs available, their reliability is significantly lower than required to operate in a transit environment, and they are nearly four times as expensive,” said VTA spokeswoman Brandi Childress. The new buses, which ride lower to the ground, are also more accessible for people with disabilities in the Santa Clara Valley, she said.

The buses were built in Hayward by GILLIG, a company that has building buses in the Bay Area since the 1890s. GILLIG’s hybrid model is expected to significantly lower VTA’s operating costs.

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